After 62 Years and 8,000 Amendments, Vancouver Commits to 2 Year Regulation Redesign

Note : An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified the costs and timeline associated with the redesign. The process in Vancouver will be guided by a dedicated team of city staff over a 2 year period. The previous listed costs and timeline were in reference to the recent changes to the regulation of Los Angeles. The total amount of amendments has also been correct to over 8, 000 – not the previously listed 8, 600.

With the build-up to the civic election, we’ve heard many complaints and promises around the need for the city to simplify and expedite its development approval process. Perhaps these individuals have either forgotten, or were unaware the process already took its first steps forward in the summer of this year.

Admittedly, neither Hannah nor I had heard much about it, and even its city hosted website is lacking any in-depth information. That said, just because a beehive looks peaceful, doesn’t mean there isn’t a flurry of activity inside. This also seems to be true of Vancouver’s planning department where, even with the pause in public consultation due to the civic election, staff seem to be as busy as ever.

Over the last few weeks, we’ve noticed that the various volunteer advisory bodies in the city have been briefed by city staff over this proposed simplification of city regulations, and I was finally able to view the presentation at the most recent UDP meeting.

I was immediately blown away by what I heard, as the city still uses the original regulations approved in 1956, and has just been adding to them ever since. Now with an overbearing 8,600 8,000 amendments, a small book has literally turned into an entire bookshelf. The presentation included photos of this, but as recordings are banned at the meeting, I’ve chosen to respect the rules and will not post any, other than the cover image.

As you may imagine, with so many amendments, the rules are now often contradictory and confusing, even to the experts. This process, inspired by a recent success in Los Angeles, is planned to be spread over  2 years 5 years at a cost of 5 million dollars. Though it seemed the panel clearly felt this time would be money well spent, as it was noted that the only consistent thing about Vancouver’s planning process is its inconsistency.

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The panel suggested there could be time savings for volunteers as well, with several indicating the city had a large amount of overlap in its review bodies. Citing the Heritage Commission, the Gastown Historic Area Planning Commission, and the UDP itself as prime examples of potential amalgamation. When one member mentioned including the Development Permit Board into that new unified body, others pushed back.

One member felt the DP Board was a great example of democracy, and acted like a mini public hearing. They described a recent experience were they watched a group of residents, concerned over the height of a project because it blocked their views, vent their concerns to senior levels of city staff. Ultimately their efforts were successful, as the project’s height was reduced beyond what was originally recommended by city staff.

Still, the panel was in agreement that this mess of red tape needs to be cleared up, some even suggested there were larger, more fundamental problems hurting the city. Maybe they were irritated over how the C-2 Zoning Guidelines have impacted so many proposals, including the previous item, but one panellist spoke up, and demanded the city address it’s outdated land use policies. Others quickly pointed out that it wasn’t the C-2 Zoning which was causing the biggest problems in our city, but was actually the single family RS-1 districts. They highlighted that Vancouver wasn’t alone in that challenge and that other cities, like Seattle, were also undergoing their own transformations.

However, for now, the discussion remains focused on cutting red tape, and possibly including more pre-zoning as part of community established area plans in the future. The slides stressed this would not be a unilateral decision, as there will be many open houses, focus groups, and surveys planned over the years ahead. After all, the process has just begun, and city staff genuinely care about public input.

While the next step for this review will be early next year when it will go before the newly elected city council, you can learn more and express any questions or comments you may have through the previously mentioned website.

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